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Yucca Mountain: Where GOP Senate candidates stand

Updated May 12, 2024 - 8:17 am

Plans to turn Yucca Mountain into the country’s nuclear waste bin are at a standstill, but discussions of restarting the proposal have drawn concerns — and different opinions — from Nevada’s elected officials and those seeking Sen. Jacky Rosen’s seat in Congress.

For years, the controversial proposal to turn Yucca Mountain into a federal nuclear waste repository was met with strong opposition from Nevada politicians on both sides of the aisle.

Efforts to move forward on the proposal have come up over the years since the Department of Energy recommended it as a national nuclear waste repository in 2002, but each time they came to a screeching halt — largely due to the resounding bipartisan opposition from Nevada’s federal officials, and the political influence of the battleground state.

The late Democratic Sen. Harry Reid was a staunch opponent and used his leadership position to block the project. Republican leaders like Rep. Mark Amodei, former Gov. Brian Sandoval, former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and former Sen. Dean Heller also opposed the plan to ship states’ nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, located 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Nevada’s federal politicians have worked to shut down the project once and for all, introducing bills that would explore repurposing Yucca Mountain for alternative uses or would give Nevadans informed consent for the project. But those bills haven’t become law.

Concerns rose again about renewed efforts to store nuclear waste in Nevada during a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee meeting in April when its chair indicated support for restarting Yucca.

Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said the “political objections of one state not based on scientific reality” blocked the repository from being licensed.

“I’ve been to Yucca Mountain, I’ve stood on top of that mountain and I thought, if we can’t put the nuclear waste of the nation here, we’re not going to be able to put it anywhere,” Duncan said in the meeting.

Project 2025, a collection of policy proposals to reshape the government after a Republican victory in the 2024 presidential election, also includes plans to have the Nuclear Regulatory Commission review the Department of Energy’s permit application for Yucca Mountain, which it says remains a viable option for waste management. The project is organized by the Heritage Foundation and run by former Trump administration officials, although former President Donald Trump has also opposed turning Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste repository.

Further concerns cropped up in April when the Los Angeles Times published audio from 2022 of Nevada GOP U.S. Senate candidate Sam Brown speaking in support of the project and said it would be a shame if it went to a different state. He called the failure to to open Yucca Mountain an “incredible loss of revenue for our state.”

Rosen has been firmly opposed to the project, and during a hearing on April 18, highlighted Nevada’s history with nuclear weapons development that exposed Nevadans to toxic levels of radiation.

“I firmly oppose any policies that would put Nevadans at risk again,” Rosen said.

With the June 11 primary just a month away, the Review-Journal asked all of the Republican Senate candidates where they stand on the project.

Sam Brown

Frontrunner Brown said in a statement that he has not committed to supporting the opening of Yucca Mountain. He stressed, however, that he would consider all thoroughly vetted future proposals, with the safety of Nevadans as his top priority and ensuring the proposals are economically beneficial.

“Leadership means considering all economic opportunities that could better support the lives of Nevadans,” Brown said in a statement.

Jeff Gunter

Gunter, former ambassador to Iceland under the Trump administration, said he is “resolutely opposed” to the project.

“It’s an absolute overreach by the federal government to impose such a hazardous burden on the great state of Nevada without the consent of its people,” Gunter said in a statement.

“This is America, and we don’t dump our problems in someone else’s backyard without their agreement,” he said. “As your senator, I will staunchly resist any efforts to revive this project, protecting Nevada and ensuring our government listens to the people, not just bureaucrats and lobbyists.”

Jim Marchant

Marchant, a former assemblyman, said he is against the project in its current form, but he is for using Yucca Mountain to solve problems throughout the country.

He said spent fuel is currently residing in around 121 sites across the country above ground, and taxpayers are paying $2 million a day for that storage.

Marchant proposes reopening the licensing process of Yucca Mountain to be used for recycling the nuclear waste material and used in “walkaway safe” small modular nuclear reactors to produce nuclear energy.

“The state government is going to make so much money processing this material and using it to power our country,” he said. His goal is for Nevadans to not have to pay very much for energy.

Tony Grady

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Tony Grady said he will not support the Yucca Mountain project.

“Nevadans have expressed they do not want Yucca Mountain and I will protect them from being our country’s nuclear wasteland,” he said in a statement.

Garn Mabey Jr.

Mabey, also a former assemblyman, said he strongly opposes reopening Yucca Mountain because it is located above an aquifer and transporting waste through the state would place Nevadans at risk if an accident or a malicious act were to occur.

“Any potential financial incentives being dangled to entice us to support reopening never will justify reopening Yucca Mountain for the storage of high-level nuclear waste,” he said in a statement. “The risks are too high! If elected, I will use my power in the U.S. Senate to prevent it from being reopened.”

Stephanie Phillips

Phillips, a Las Vegas real estate broker, said with any decision she makes, she asks a lot of questions, gathers the facts and does her homework.

“The last time they tried to get Yucca through, the majority of Nevadans didn’t want nuclear waste in their ‘backyard’,” she said. “I realize the potential revenue for Nevada would be great for us; however, there are pros and cons. I would take it to the Nevada voters for comment and opinions. Elected officials are supposed to be representing the will of The People and my decisions will reflect just that.”

Bill Conrad

Conrad, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, said he agrees with Dr. Scott Tyler from an interview conducted six years ago. He said there is a risk of groundwater contamination, geological concerns and an issue with transporting the material safely. He also said Yucca Mountain is located on land significant to Native American tribes, particularly the Western Shoshone.

Conrad said at this time, “when looking at the science and the effects on Las Vegas and our state, I do not support using Yucca Mountain as a centralized nuclear depository.”

Barry Lindemann

Lindemann, an asset manager, said he believes Yucca Mountain can be repurposed.

“If the people of Nevada refuse Yucca Mountain as a repository for nuclear waste, then we need to utilize the space for power production,” he said in a statement.

Lindemann said developments in nuclear waste are showing signs of the ability to burn spent fuel rods while producing electricity.

Eddie Hamilton

Longtime political candidate Hamilton said he is in favor of converting Yucca Mountain into a new technology “reprocessing” nuclear power plant and facility. He is against using it as a strictly passive dumping landfill for nuclear waste materials.

Tony Grady, Vincent Rego and Ronda Kennedy did not return requests for comment.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on X.

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